Published on: Dec 5, 2007
Type: Opinions

The threat of HIV/AIDS is, no doubt, a global scourge that has descended on humanity with merciless ferocity! As the global community just observed the World AIDS day on December 1, it is high time the human race substituted complacency with shared determination and embrace resilience in the war against AIDS.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS has just released the AIDS Epidemic Update 2007 which has long been awaited with a number of revisions in previously published epidemiological data. There are currently 33.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2007 across the world, a reduction of 16% compared with the estimate published in 2006 of 39.5 million (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007). According to the UNAIDS/WHO epidemic update, the statistical distribution of the disease is as follows: 30.8 million adults, 15.4 million women and 2.5 million children under 15years. The same report states that people newly infected with HIV in 2007 total 2.5 million with a statistical distribution of 2.1 million adults and 420, 000 children under 15 years. Of the 2.1 million AIDS death in 2007, adults account for 1.7 million and children under 15 years 330,000. It is imperative to emphasise that of the 2.1 million deaths due to AIDS in 2007, 76% was recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007).

We cannot be consoled, become complacent of the contemporary reality or take solace in the recent statistical decline in HIV/AIDS prevalence because this does not necessarily mean that the incidence of HIV/AIDS has declined, but could be due to a number of factors which could include but not limited to the improvement in HIV sentinel surveillance data as the number of surveillance rounds and their geographical and population coverage has increased; behavioural and attitudinal changes among populations; downward pressure on mortality rate due to increasing access to antiretroviral drugs; reduction of incidence rate secondary to mortality of AIDS infected population; effects of prevention campaigns and strategies on reducing new infections or simply a natural trend in the epidemic. For instance UNAIDS (2007) notes that the proportion of declines of new infections in Kenya and Zimbabwe is largely due to a reduction in risky behaviour. There is also the possibility that a change in methodology for 2007 data has enhanced a more effective data collection and analysis and not simply a product of variation in the trend of the pandemic.

Is this statistical revelation an indictment on our moral laxity or a wake up call for a more collaborative, well formulated policies and programmes targeted at reducing both the incidence, prevalence and mortality of the disease to as low as reasonably possible? In my view, it is a mixture of both. This publication highlights the fact that HIV/AIDS remain a public health emergency and remains a leading cause of mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Everyday, over 6800 persons across the world become infected with HIV and over 5700 persons die from AIDS, mostly because of inadequate access to HIV prevention/treatment services (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007). This staggering data is not only symbolic but a wake up call to all humanity as this disease continually chips away the most important human resource of the global community-human life! AIDS is still a leading cause of death globally with catastrophic significance in Sub-Saharan Africa, and presents an enormous and ongoing challenge to human growth and development, strategic planning and policy development across global economies.

It is therefore imperative to develop more formidable and evidence-based policies and strategies aimed at combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Credit should be given to both governmental and non-governmental organisations who have dedicatedly advanced the cause of combating HIV/AIDS. However, the human race must intensify its efforts through a more collaborative, grass-root integrated projects aimed at prevention through sensitisation and culturally integrated educational programmes. The target population and population at risk remain men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers and their sexual partners as well as men and women with multiple sexual partners and those who under the influence of drugs and alcohol lack sexual restrain and discretion. For instance, rural sensitisation in Cameroon has helped challenge the youth to learn and be trained on healthy sexual practices, prevention strategies, testing and treatment modalities with appropriate and effective programme incorporation of mainly young men and women.

There needs to be increased collaboration between private and public sector enterprises as well as charity organisations in the development of pre-emptive strategies if the war on AIDS will be won. There is need for increased investment in treatment modalities and ongoing development of human capital; Governments should enhance the productive capacity of our youth as active participants, partners and agents of change by empowering them to become better citizens, and by creating the enabling environment for active youth participation in social welfare programmes; while enforcing and reinforcing attitudinal and behavioural change among vulnerable populations remain a sine-qua-non. Above all, ongoing provision and availability of antiretroviral drugs to infected individuals will no doubt continue to reduce mortality as many of the deaths due to AIDS are linked to lack of access to adequate health care, a phenomenon that is emphatically common across Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. And finally, effective and efficient data collection would enhance programme evaluation and reinforce evidence-based policy and programme development as a precursor for effectively countering and combating the ravages of HIV/AIDS.

The world has to pay particular attention to Sub-Saharan Africa where lack of access to healthcare, poverty, illiteracy, cultural myths, lack of social infrastructure, unemployment and stigma have synergistically threatened meaningful progress in combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the most affected of all the regions across the world with more than two out of three (68%) adults and nearly 90% of children infected with HIV. The region also recorded more than three in four (76%) AIDS death in 2007 (UNAIDS/WHO, 2007), a demonstration of unmet needs in the area of prevention and treatment. The world is becoming increasingly globalised and evidently the problem of AIDS in Africa is no longer a problem of Africans alone as distant neighbours have both economically and socially become close friends. The rest of the world, especially the west has a moral responsibility to respond to the needs of AIDS sufferers in Africa and elsewhere more than ever, and to support and facilitate prevention programmes aimed at hurting the incidence of the disease worldwide. However, African governments need to rise to the challenges of the time; refrain from corruption; uphold democratic legitimacy; promote democratic institutions and maintain transparency and accountability in leadership. In that way any external donor could be encouraged to develop a more formidable partnership because meaningful, evidence-based steps are being taken to this end. The scourge of HIV/AIDS continues to threaten human existence and calls for a more integrated, collective multi-system approach needs to be heeded to. This would ensure that human capital, which will fuel human development, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, doesn’t continually succumb to the ravages of HIV/AIDS.

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